Joseph Henri Marie de Prémare

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Joseph Henri Marie de Prémare (17 July 1666 – 17 September 1736) was a Jesuit missionary to China. Born in Cherbourg, he departed for China in 1698, and worked as a missionary in Guangxi.


In 1724, after the Yongzheng Emperor virtually banned Christianity over the Chinese Rites controversy, he was confined with his colleagues in Guangzhou and later banished to Macau, where he died. His Notitia linguae sinicae, written in 1736 and first published in 1831,[1] was the first important Chinese language grammar in a European language. His letters can be found in the Lettres édifiantes et curieuses de Chine series.[2]

Father de Prémare is among the missionaries who furnished Jean-Baptiste Du Halde with the material for his "Description de la Chine" (Paris, 1735). Among his contributions were translations from the Book of Documents (Du Halde, II, 298); eight odes of the Classic of Poetry (II, 308); and the first translation into a European language of a Chinese drama, "The Orphan of Zhao" (III, 341), titled L'Orphelin de la Maison de Tchao.[3] Premaré sent the translation to Étienne Fourmont, a member of the Académie française.[4][5] However, the play came into the possession of Father Du Halde instead, who published it in his Description Géographique, Historique, Chronologique, Politique et Physique de l'Empire de la Chine et de la Tartarie Chinois in 1735, although he had no permission from Prémare or Fourmont to do so.[4] Prémare's translation inspired Voltaire's 1753 tragedy L'Orphelin de la Chine.[6]

De Prémare's writings also include a defense of figurism proposed by Joachim Bouvet, which held that the doctrines of Christianity were mystically embodied in the Chinese classics.[7]



  1. ^ Peverelli, Peter (23 March 2015). The History of Modern Chinese Grammar Studies. Springer. p. 23. ISBN 9783662465042. 
  2. ^ Brucker, Joseph. "Joseph Henri Marie de Prémare." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 8 Jun. 2013 Online version.
  3. ^ Liu 1953, 201.
  4. ^ a b Liu 1953, 202.
  5. ^ Hawkes 1985, 108.
  6. ^ West, Stephen H.; Idema, Wilt L. (2015). The Orphan of Zhao and Other Yuan Plays: The Earliest Known Versions. New York City: Columbia University Press. pp. 55–56. ISBN 978-0-231-53810-7. 
  7. ^ Brucker, "Joseph Henri Marie de Prémare."


  • Knud Lundbæk. Joseph De Prémare, 1666-1736, S.J. : Chinese Philology and Figurism. (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, Acta Jutlandica, 1991). ISBN 8772883448.
  • Hawkes, David (1985). Classical, Modern and Humane: Essays in Chinese Literature. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press. ISBN 9789622013544. 
  • Liu, Wu-Chi (1953). "The Original Orphan of China". Comparative Literature. 5 (3). JSTOR 1768912. 
  • D. E. Mungello. Curious Land: Jesuit Accommodation and the Origins of Sinology. (Stuttgart: F. Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden, Studia Leibnitiana Supplementa, 1985). Reprinted: Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1989 ISBN 0824812190. [1]

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